City of Malibu Rallies Support for School District Separation

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2023
SMMUSD Administrative Offices

The two sides continue to square off against each other, gearing up for a showdown on April 17: it will be Malibu versus Santa Monica over the school district separation in a hearing before the LA County Committee on School District Organization. The committee is an independent, 11-member elected body.

“This is the moment and it comes exactly when we need it most,” Malibu’s only representative on the SMMUSD School Board, Craig Foster, wrote in response to a request for comment on the upcoming hearing. “Malibu schools have been battered by the district’s unconscionable response to PCBs [toxins found in school buildings]; its utter lack of response to the Woolsey Fire and the terrible damage it did to our entire community, including widespread tragedy and the displacement of families, students, and teachers; and their similar indifference and inattention to the drain on Malibu students caused by the closing of our schools even as all of Malibu’s neighboring schools remained open throughout the year of COVID. The residents’ voices, their stories, their experiences are crucial to allowing the [LA] County Office of Education to hear for themselves all the reasons Malibu has sought local control of our schools for so long, and why Santa Monica is a poor master and must go.”

In one of the latest volleys, Santa Monica Mayor Sue Himmelrich and Mayor Pro Tem Kristin McCowan wrote the LA County Committee on School District Organization on March 10: “The Malibu petition [for independence] would jeopardize this careful balance and the wellbeing of all SMMUSD students by reducing per pupil expenditures for Santa Monica students for the next quarter-century while creating a far better funded and significantly less diverse Malibu USD.” 

The letter went on to argue their side of the case with a series of false and misleading statements about diversity and per pupil expenditures that Malibu experts vehemently dispute. (More on some of those claims can be found in previous Malibu Times reporting: bit.ly/SeparationQuestions.)

On March 24, Santa Monica City Council unanimously voted to support Malibu’s separation from the school district, but only if the division of revenues is “fair and just” for Santa Monica students—and they don’t think it is. One major point of conflict is the money Santa Monica would like to see Malibu pay toward its students; in negotiations over the past five years, that number reached up to $4 billion over the span of 50 years.

Santa Monica Council Member Gleam Davis said at last week’s meeting that he wanted to make sure “Santa Monica doesn’t lose out” and referred to the Malibu plan as a “threat to the students and families of Santa Monica,” according to Santa Monica Lookout reporting. 

The City of Malibu has sent out messages urging residents to become informed on this complex issue, while also creating a web page with background information on the long process: malibucity.org/MUSD.

The city is collecting testimonials from residents about personal experiences with Santa Monica-Malibu public schools and asks community members to submit the testimonials and endorse the city’s application to form an independent Malibu Unified School District (MUSD). Find the form at: malibucity.org/FormCenter/Management-Forms-14/School-Experience-193 

“It is incredibly important that every Malibu resident with a story to tell and/or a desire for a locally controlled public school district participate in the city’s outreach,” Foster urged in his message to The Malibu Times. “This is our moment to finally be heard, to finally present our case to the LA County authorities who can end this crisis.”

An informational meeting will be held on April 14. Called an “Awareness Night,” the meeting will include experts presenting the facts, figures and arguments supporting Malibu unification (Malibu “unifying” into an independent district), followed by an open discussion of key issues. Details will be available on the city’s website soon.

Residents are also invited to make public comments at the county hearing on Saturday, April 17, at 9:30 a.m. 

“Log onto the virtual meeting and tell the committee why creating an MUSD is a great idea,” the City of Malibu website suggests. More details on how to do so are forthcoming.

Forming an MUSD would give residents local control over Malibu schools. Currently, Malibu only has about 15 percent of SMMUSD’s population, which has prevented it from being able to elect any more than one local representative at a time to the seven-member school board. An independent Malibu school district has historically been one of the most widely popular local issues, overcoming other political and interest group boundaries.